New Islamic Directions

By Imam Zaid Shakir

Fasting in Shawwal: Part Four

Posted in articles by Imam Zaid Shakir on 2009-10-10

This is the fouth and final installment of our translations concerning issues associated with fasting voluntarily in Shawwal from Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali’s book, Lata’if al-Ma’arif. This selection is from pages 397-400. We will continue with the virtues of Hajj from the same text, Insha Allah.

The devotional acts of the Prophet, peace upon him, were moderate and consistent. ‘Aisha was asked, “Did the Prophet, peace upon him, designate specific days for especially intense worship?” She replied, “No. His devotion acts were moderate and consistent.” [1] She said, “The Prophet, peace upon him, would not pray during Ramadan or any other time more than eleven units (rakats) [of voluntary prayer at night]. [2]

The Prophet, peace upon him, [would also] make up any regular devotional acts he missed in Ramadan during Shawwal. One year he failed to retreat to the mosque during the last ten days of Ramadan. He made these days up by retreating to the mosque at the beginning of Shawwal.

He, peace upon him, asked a man if he had fasted during the latter part of Sha’ban. The man answered, “No.” He ordered him to make up days from Sha’ban during Shawwal after the festival (‘Id al-Fitr). The Hadith in which Umm Salamah ordered the members of her family to make up any days they had missed in Ramadan immediately after the post-Ramadan festival has been previously mentioned. Anyone having days of fasting to make up from Ramadan should begin making them up in Shawwal. This will relieve him of the obligation he owes quicker. This is more appropriate than first fasting six days of Shawwal voluntarily.

The scholars differ concerning one who has obligatory days of fasting to make up. Is it permissible for him to engage in voluntary fasting before making them up or not? Considering the opinion of those who do say it is permissible, the objective of fasting six days of Shawwal is only accomplished by one who has completed the fast of Ramadan and then followed it up with six days from Shawwal. As for one who has days to make up from Ramadan, but first fasts six days of Shawwal voluntarily, the reward of fasting Ramadan and then following it up with six days of Shawwal does not accrue to him, because he has not completed the designated days of Ramadan.

Similarly, it does not definitely accrue to one who makes breaks the obligatory fast of Ramadan for some excuse, and then first fasts [voluntarily] six days during Shawwal.  One who begins by making up days he has missed of Ramadan during Shawwal, then follows those days with six days of the same month has engaged in an acceptable action, because he has completed the Fast of Ramadan and then followed that up with six days of Shawwal. The virtue of fasting six days of Shawwal would not accrue to him if he did not first make up these days remaining of Ramadan, as the virtue of fasting six days during Shawwal is only relevant after completing the fast of Ramadan.

The opportunity of a believer to undertake a devotional act does not expire until she dies. Hasan [al-Basri] mentioned, “Allah has fixed no expiration date for a believer’s devotional action other than death.” He then recited, Worship your Lord until death comes to you. (16:99)

All of these months, years, days, and nights are measures of time and milestones for our actions. They pass by quickly until they are all gone. As for the one who has created them, brought them about, designated certain virtues for them and stores them up [for us], He remains and is permanent. At all times He is One God. He constantly observes and watches over the deeds of His servants. Therefore, glorified is He who presents to His servants during these various times differing duties in order that He may extend over them the bounties of His Graces, thereby treating them to the epitome of generosity and kindness.

When the three noble months pass, the first of which is the sacred month (Rajab) and the last of which is the month of fasting (Ramadan), three other months approach (Shawwal, Dhu’l Qa’dah, and Dhu’l Hijjah), the months of pilgrimage (Hajj) to the sacred house. So just as the one who has fasted Ramadan and stood for prayer during its nights finds his prior sins forgiven, so to does one who undertakes pilgrimage to the sacred house, committing no lewd or profligate acts therein, [he] returns expunged of his sins like [he was] the day his mother gave birth to him.

There is not a single moment that passes from a servant’s life except that there is a dutiful act of obedience that he owes Allah. The believer moves between these duties. He draws near to his Lord with them in a state of hope and fear. The lover [of Allah] never bores of drawing himself near to his Lord with voluntary acts, and he hopes for nothing other than His nearness and His pleasure. Every moment that the servant spends devoid of his obedience to his Lord is a source of loss, just as every moment he spends devoid of the remembrance of Allah will be a source of remorse on the Day of Resurrection. How regretful is any moment spent in other than His obedience! How sad is any moment wasted in other than His service!

Anyone who undertakes an act of obedience and then finishes it, a sign of its acceptance is that it is joined to a subsequent act of obedience. A sign of its rejection is that it is followed by an act of sinful rebellion. How excellent is a bad deed followed by a good deed that will eradicate it! Better yet is a good deed followed by yet another good deed! How vile is a good deed followed by a bad deed that will efface it! A single sin after repentance is worse than seventy sins prior to it.

Ask Allah to give you persistence in His obedience until you die. And seek refuge with Him that your heart should change [for the worse], or that you decrease your righteous deeds after you have been blessed to increase them. How alienating is the humiliation of sin, coming after the honor of obedience! How very vile is the impoverishment of craving, coming after the wealth of contentment. Please have mercy on the nobleman who has been humiliated by disobedience, and the wealthy man who has been impoverished by sin.

O the youth of repentance! Do not return to nursing at the breast of your capricious whims after you have been weaned from it. Nursing is fit for infants not adults. You have to be patient with the discomfort accompanying weaning. If you are patient you will find the deliciousness of your whims replaced by the sweetness of faith in your hearts. Anyone leaving something for Allah will never miss it. Allah will substitute for him something better than it. If Allah finds contentment in your hearts [over a loss], He will give you something better than what He has taken from you, and He will forgive you. (8:70)

It is further related in a Hadith, “The lustful gaze is one of Satan’s poisonous arrows. Whoever leaves it for the Sake of Allah, Allah will give him a faith whose sweetness will be clearly manifest in his heart.” This Hadith is related by Imam Ahmad [3]. This message is for the youth. As for an elderly person who resumes sinning after Ramadan, that is far, far worse. A young person might wait to repent at the end of his life. This is a dangerous attitude, because death might hasten the end of his affair, descending upon him suddenly. As for an elderly person his ship is overlooking the approaching shore of the Sea of Destiny, what is he waiting for?

A poet recited:

Grey hair is announcing the passing of the shade of youth.
The announcements are calling you by an unfamiliar name.

Be prepared for the announcer proclaiming your mortality,
for everything approaching is close at hand.

Do we not see the lusts of the souls perishing?
While the sins they have engaged in remain.

The penitent person fears for the fate of his soul…
What should be the state of one who has not repented?


[1]  Related in Jami’ al-Usul, 1:305 and 2:343

[2] Many people mistakenly take this Hadith as a proof that it is a blameworthy innovation to pray more than eleven units of prayer during Tarawih. Although this particular narration mentions eleven units, there are other Hadith, though not as strong as this one, mentioning the Prophet, peace upon him, praying twenty rakats at night. In any case, the number mentioned in this Hadith is not restrictive. In other words, there is no indication that the number of units to be prayed at night is limited to this or any other number. For this reason, when ‘Umar gathered the people behind a single Imam during Ramadan, he ordered them to pray twenty rakats. Not a single companion objected to the number of rakats advised by ‘Umar on the grounds that it was in opposition to the prophetic practice. The acceptability of this practice was subsequently affirmed by all of the four Sunni Imams, Abu Hanifa, Malik, al-Shafi’i, and Ahmad. It is related that Imam Ahmad used to pray three hundred rakats every night before he was tortured and one hundred rakats every night thereafter. If exceeding eleven rakats were a blameworthy innovation, all of these Imams would be guilty of affirming and perpetuating Bida’. We ask Allah to remove such a perverse thought from our hearts.

[3] Related in Al-Targhib, 3:34



By thesis on April 22, 2010 at 12:58pm

Shawwal is the tenth month in the lunar calendar, as mentioned earlier. The first of Shawwal is Eidul Fitr. After the festivity of Eid it is recommended to observe six days of fast. This fast may be observed continuously non-break, or it may be observed one day at a time. If you observe it continuously, you may start on the fourth day and end on the ninth of day Shawwal, or you may select days at random, provided you complete six days before the end of Shawwal. For instance, you may observe the third, fifth, seventh, ninth, 14th and 15th days. Abu Ayyub Al-Ansari (raa) related the Messenger of Allah, (saas), said:

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